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SPRI logoScott Polar Research Institute

Department of Geography, University of Cambridge


Our collections

Our collections

The Polar Library offers a collection for reference developed since the 1920s with over 54,000 monographs, DVDs, Masters and Doctoral theses all fully catalogued. There are also extensive pamphlet and press cutting collections, backruns of periodicals and around 18,000 maps. Our holdings cover the literature of all subjects relating to the polar regions published in a wide range of languages. The library also offers comprehensive coverage for all aspects of snow and ice throughout the world.

Our collection development policy sets out the library's strategy on the collection's scope, development, management and access.

We always welcome new book recommendations and will consider anything that fits our collection development policy. You can either fill in the online book recommendation form, contact us by e-mail or speak to a member of library staff in person.

Arctic collections

The Arctic collections are unique in covering all countries of the circumpolar north for all subjects and in all languages. Particular strengths are the substantial collections relating to the Arctic Ocean, to the European Arctic, and to the Russian North. Arctic material can be found on the first floor of the library.

Antarctic collections

The Antarctic collections cover both the continent itself and for the surrounding ocean and sub-Antarctic islands. Because of their long association with British Antarctic activities, the library also aims to maintain good, but not exhaustive, holdings for the Falkland Islands and Tristan da Cunha focusing particularly on natural history and on historical and political issues with an Antarctic dimension. Antarctic material is found on the first floor of the Rotunda.

Russian collections; Русскоязычные коллекции

Russia has been a major player in polar research since the exploration of the poles began. The library has extensive Russian-language holdings in all the disciplines of polar science. It also holds the Breitfuss Collection – over 1,000 items about the polar regions published largely in German and Russian, collected by the Russian-German polar specialist Leonid Breitfuss. Some of the Library's Russian-language material is rare even within Russia; most of it is extremely hard to access outside the Russian Federation. The Library is proud of its role in communicating Russian polar research to the wider world.

Россия играла ведущую роль в изучении полярных областей с момента зарождения интереса науки к этим регионам. Значительное собрание русскоязычных материалов, освещающих все аспекты полярных исследований, хранится в Библиотеке Института Полярных Исследований им. Скотта. Большая часть этой коллекции редко встречается за пределами России, а некоторые книги настолько уникальны, что их трудно найти и в России. В частности, в Библиотеке находится собрание русско-немецкого ученого Леонида Львовича Брейтфуса, которое содержит более тысячи разнообразных публикаций о полярных областях на многих языках, преимущественно на немецком и русском. Библиотека гордится своей ролью в распространении по всему миру достижений российской науки в исследовании полярных областей.

Glaciological collections

Publications on all topics relating to snow and ice in all parts of the world are collected. Among subjects included are glacial geology, geocryology, glacioastronomy, and snow and ice engineering. The glaciology collection is thus not restricted to the polar regions. Glaciological material is shelved on the 2nd floor of the Rotunda.

Special collections

SPRI's Special Collections comprise over 1,000 volumes that date back to the sixteenth century and cover a wide range of printed material on the polar regions. The published collections on the history of British polar exploration supplement the manuscript material held in the Institute's Thomas H. Manning Polar Archive. Material published pre-1900 and items with particular rarity, significance or noteworthy provenance are held in the Special Collections and are subject to different access arrangements and handling regulations.

To consult Special Collections material held in the Library, please book a desk. Please provide the details (including the classmark/s) of the items you would like to see when making your booking, as all Special Collections material will need to be retrieved by Library staff before your visit.

If you cannot keep your booking, please use the link in your booking confirmation email to cancel your place and enable somebody else to use it.

Please note that this desk is reserved for users of Library material only. If you wish to consult Archive material then please see the relevant Archive webpages for catalogue information and booking options.


The library has a substantial collection of 18,000 maps. Maps of Greenland, Yukon and the Northwest Territories are findable on iDiscover. Use the iDiscover Libguide to help search for cartographic material. Many more maps of the polar regions are available on request.

Press cuttings

We hold a significant collection of press cuttings dating back to the 1970s. They are collected in the following subjects: Arctic, Antarctic, biography, climate change, Falklands, Russian Arctic, snow and ice, SPRI, whales and seals. Cuttings from 2009 onwards are listed; please contact us if you would like to consult the spreadsheets. The most recent press cutting files can be found with the reference collection on the first floor of the library. Older press cutting files are stored in the basement; please speak to a member of staff about accessing them.


The library holds print copies of all SPRI students' Master's dissertations and many Doctoral theses. Many theses are now digitised and available to read open access through the University of Cambridge's institutional repository, Apollo. To find out more about digitising your thesis, contact the library.


The library holds print back runs of over 3,000 periodical titles and has active subscriptions to a number of print journals, many of which are unique in the University of Cambridge. Recent periodical issues are displayed in the entrance to library. Back runs are shelved on the first floor of the library, and in the Wubbold room on the second floor of the building. Some titles are stored in the basement; please ask a member of staff to fetch the items you need.

Electronic resources

The University Library subscribes to thousands of e-resources that will help your polar research. They can all be searched for in iDiscover and are accessible to members of the University by logging in with your Raven password. If you are using a computer on campus you may have direct access to these resources. Use the LibGuides to help find articles and journals, ebooks and databases. The Polar Studies LibGuide recommends useful online resources.

Inter-library loans

To access material not held in the Polar Library or anywhere else within the University of Cambridge, members of the University can Request a Digital Copy in iDiscover. If this service is not available, you can use the University Library's inter library loan online request form. You must be registered as a reader at the UL. The library can pay any associated charge for members of SPRI; in this case, please get in touch with the library team before you make your request. The Scott Polar Research Institute also works in partnership with the University Library to supply material to other libraries. Contact the Inter-library loans department to make a request.

High demand section

The library supports the current teaching and learning needs of Polar Studies at the University of Cambridge. All items on the reading lists for the Part II Geographies of the Arctic paper and the Polar Studies MPhil are held in the High demand section. They are reference-only texts and should not be taken out of the library so that they are available for others to consult.